Bingo bingtao!

China’s teen sensation…Yan Bingtao with the trophy after defeating Muhammad Sajjad of Pakistan in the final of the IBSF World Snooker Championship. At 14, Bingtao became the youngest player to win the World title.-K.MURALI KUMAR

Yan Bingtao’s triumph is bound to open up a debate on whether the Chinese system is restrictive or not. However, the 14-year-old’s feat certainly deserves credit. By Ashwin Achal.

The rise of Yan Bingtao and Muhammad Sajjad, the finalists in the IBSF World Snooker Championship in Bengaluru, is a study in contrast. Bingtao is a product of the Chinese system that shapes every detail of a player’s game. Sajjad, on the other hand, had little support in Pakistan before a few benefactors stepped in to help him in his career.

Both players, however, had some striking similarities. A calm, understated, compact game defined their approach on the table, and their quiet and modest demeanour won the respect of the fans.

While Bingtao’s triumph is bound to open up a debate on whether the Chinese system is restrictive or not, the 14-year-old’s feat certainly deserves credit.

Bingtao, born in Shandong, took to snooker at the age of eight and has since devoted himself to the sport. He does not attend school; snooker is his life. A few years after picking up the cue, he moved to Beijing, where he trains at the China Billiards and Snooker Association (CBSA). Though not much is known about the massive government-run complex that houses this snooker facility, the talk of highly specialised training resources in use there cannot be far from the truth.

Bingtao’s smart tactical shift in the final allowed him to prevail in a close match — a move that was the result of either his fine training or just natural instinct. The street-smart Sajjad took a 7-6 lead in the best-of-15 encounter by choosing to engage his opponent in a safety battle, but Bingtao soon realised that this was not his cup of tea. In the next two frames, the teenager split the reds early, and with the table opened up, constructed the big breaks to win 8-7.

While Bingtao and Sajjad kept the crowd clued in with their technically sound play, the pure genius in Zhao Xintong created an electric atmosphere. The immensely gifted Xintong potted at will, often using massive screw and spin to control the cue ball. The loud sound of the ball thudding into the pocket evoked a thunderous applause from the crowd at the Sree Kanteerava Indoor Stadium, even as a casual Xintong carried on like it was a routine occurrence. The 17-year-old trains at the same academy as Bingtao, but his free-spirited approach suggests that there is room for creativity in the often-rigid set-up.

Apart from local favourite Pankaj Advani, it was Xintong who attracted the big crowds. The Chinese’s wizardry, however, ended in the semifinals when a no-nonsense Sajjad sent him packing.

The Indians in the fray did fire in spurts, but a lack of consistency brought their downfall. Lucky Vatnani impressed with breaks of 133 and 107 during the course of the tournament, but fell short in a pre-quarterfinal fixture against Xintong.

Kamal Chawla looked in good touch before crashing out in the Round of 64. Twelve-time world champion Advani carried the bulk of Indian expectations and eventually paid the price for it. High spectator interest marked Advani’s matches. It reached a crescendo during his quarterfinal encounter against Bingtao. Repeated disturbances from the stands did not do his chances any good, and an angry Advani lashed out at the crowd during the post-match press conference.

Among the women, Vidya Pillai, Chitra Magimairaj and Amee Kamani led India’s charge by comfortably entering the knockout rounds, but could not progress much. Belgium’s Wendy Jans, who now treats snooker as a “hobby”, won her third successive World title. The sport may have dropped down her list of priorities, but she still means business during competitions.

The tournament nearly witnessed a fairytale ending, with Darren Morgan — who won the men’s title in the 1987 edition held in Bangalore — entering the Masters final. Morgan, however, fell to Thailand’s Phisit Chandsri.

A distraught Morgan stated that the loss took the sheen away from his maiden international victory years ago. “I was afraid of this. I did not want to play this tournament, because I knew that if I lose, it would spoil the memories I had of the 1987 win. I should have followed my gut feeling and skipped this championship,” he said.